The Fate of Mansfield Humphreys

How it was that I became acquainted with what I shall here relate, it is not worth the while to set forth particularly. Suffice it to say that through letters from all the persons whom I mention, from their own lips, and by my personal observation, I learned very thoroughly, and in the most trustworthy manner, what befell my masking friend and traveling companion.

The reader will please to recollect the quondam Washington Adams’s experience during his sojourn at Toppington Priory and in its neighborhood: how he was thrown into companionship with the lady of that house and with her beautiful cousin ; how he was fortunate enough to bring succor to the latter at a moment of extreme peril ; and how she sent him the cluster of party-colored leaves which were the cause of the accident that befell her.1 The tiny drop of blood which his eager eye detected on one of those leaves I do not believe that she had seen. On such a surface of mingled bronze and green and red and yellow, blending and shading into each other, a little crimson spot would hardly be observed, unless upon very minute examination. Had it been plainly visible, it would have been removed before he received this witness of his service and her gratitude. For although she was open-hearted enough and self-reliant enough to send such a token to a man whom she trusted as she trusted him, and who had been to her what he had been, there was in her soul a sense of delicacy mingled with that rarest of qualities in woman, a sense of humor, which would have made her shrink from seeming to provoke a sentiment which, when manifested, she regarded with a kind of worshiping admiration.

No word of fond suggestions had passed between Mansfield Humphreys and Margaret Duffield, — although before he found her bleeding in the park he had quickly loved her with an all-absorbing love ; for he had soon discovered in her the one woman whose presence stirred in him all impulses of soul and sense. Yet he did not woo her, except through that mightiest of pleadings from such a nature us his to such a soul as hers, — the being his simple self, and living his daily life before her. He did not shut his eyes to obstacles in his way; but, as often happens in like cases, he made most of that which was of least importance, — his age. Of this he had never seriously thought, before. Whether he was twenty years old, or sixty, was a question that never presented itself to him. He did his work and enjoyed his life ; and he did both with thoughtless and almost unconscious vigor. But when he was brought face to face with the momentous fact that he — who, although he had fancied a few women for various qualities and in various ways, had never truly loved—now looked upon this beautiful young woman with a mingling of worship and longing unknown to him before, he suddenly be thought himself that he was twentyfive years her elder.

Although a self-reliant man and sufficient unto himself, he was devoid of personal vanity, and had no confidence in his powers of pleasing; rather, he never thought whether he was pleasing or not, never sought to make himself agreeable to any one he liked, but did what he deemed was right, and showed what he thought and felt, — showed his liking without reserve, but did not talk about it, and never flattered. Consequently, the vain and shallow mass of men and women had never taken much delight in him ; and, having no such debts to pay, had never flattered him. Respected, even admired, and a little feared, he was not popular ; but he had a few friends, who would have trusted him with their lives and honors ; and although he had not known it, there had been women, whom he had passed by without a look or a word more than ordinary courtesy demanded, who would have gladly given him their lives and their honors and themselves. Being this manner of man, and thus unskilled in woman’s heart and ways, his age, although it came upon him as a mere intellectual conviction, a fact in the abstract, yet seemed to him, chiefly because of what he had read and heard, an insuperable barrier between him and the fruition of his love. He was not a man either to whimper, or to insinuate himself where he could not go openly ; and therefore upon the subject dearest to his heart he maintained an absolute reserve, not only of speech, but of manner. Yet although he set a watch upon his lips, and chilled with cold resolve the tenderness that would have glowed in his eye, he could not wholly hide his love from a girl like Margaret Duffield; and he could not conceal, did not seek to conceal, himself. For her, that was enough ; and although before her peril she had never said plainly, even to her own heart, that she loved Mansfield Humphreys, she was in just such a condition that when the peril came it revealed to her absolutely and pitilessly the state of her affections ; from which revelation she did not shrink, indeed, but which, she being the woman that she was, had brought her mingled joy and fear.

For seeing, at least a little, the feeling of Mansfield Humphreys toward her, she had given herself up to the gladness of rejoicing in it, of worshiping it, without yet acknowledging more than that such a man’s love was a sort of divine manifestation that any woman — not she, Margaret Duffield, in particular — ought to love and worship. But when she lay, an invalid, yet not diseased, in the luxurious languor which was the consequence of mere physical exhaustion, her mind quickly acting although not strongly active, she soon discovered that she prized her life more highly because it had been preserved to her by Humphreys, and indeed that the preservation was more to her than the life. She saw, moreover, that she had given herself, heart and soul, to a stranger, — a man who, while he was of her own race and speech, of her own religion, and even of her own habits of thought, and who, as he had told her, had cousins of her own name, and not improbably of her own kindred, although far remote, was not of her own people; of whose family and friends she was wholly ignorant ; whose social surroundings were not those into which she had been born, and in which and by which she had been bred to what she was. She had given herself to a Son of Heth ; and it was a grief of mind to her. For Margaret Duffield, notwithstanding her independence, and in spite of the protest of her noble soul against many of the trammels of the society in which she had been reared, was yet bound by the bonds and shut up within the limitations of that society. She was an English gentlewoman; and although this “ American ” gentleman seemed to her yearning soul and loving heart almost a god among men, she had imbibed vague notions of what “ American meant, and vague apprehensions of evil in the social experience to which she must submit if she became his wife. To a gentlewoman, her social experience is the very essence of her personal life ; and therefore it was that Margaret Duffield looked upon Mansfield Humphreys’ love for her, and the love that she now confessed to herself for him, with fear mingled with her joy.

INone the less, however, she felt that she owed him something for her life, and something more — oh, how much more, she now confessed ! — for the love which had given her life such greater worth in her own eyes. Therefore it was that, setting her teeth in the face of her fear, she had sent him the cluster of leaves that was the sign and token of the strong bond that was now between them,— a token which he might interpret as he pleased : either as a mere graceful acknowledgment of the great service that he had rendered her, or as an intimation that he might speak to her as he never yet had spoken. As to any risk that she ran that he might look upon her little memorial with the petty pride of a small-souled man in a female conquest, she did not give it one moment’s consideration. Of him personally she felt sure. Her perfect love cast out all fear. Her trust in him was absolute, unquestioning.

Trust could not have been more safely placed. He could not be blind to the possible meaning of such a gift ; and although, in the innate modesty of his soul, and because of the life-long influence of his line breeding, he said to himself, This may be merely a pretty token of thanksgiving from a girl whose nature acts upon a higher plane than that of mere social convention, he felt that, notwithstanding his prudent self-restraint, she might have seen his heart, and that if she had seen it he would not have received such a token if his love had been unwelcome.

Under like circumstances, in " America,” he would have gone directly to her. Under like circumstances, he thought that an English gentleman would have been likely to tell her his love before he spoke to her family upon the subject. But he, too, felt the limitations of his position. Properly introduced (notwithstanding the grotesqueness of his first appearance at the Priory, which it should be remembered Margaret had not witnessed) ; frankly and warmly received, and treated with the consideration to which he had always been accustomed ; finding in the company at the seat of this English earl nothing new to him in manners and little in social tone ; made, by the kindness of his friends, to feel himself completely at ease in a household and a society constructed upon larger lines and a more broadly based establishment than those with which any homeliving American ” can be familiar, he yet felt that he was really a stranger. He knew these people, liked them heartily, and saw that they liked him ; and he was sure that they and he would be friends always. But they knew nothing of him but himself, — nothing of his family, his connection, his rightful place in social life; and Mansfield Humphreys was too much a man of the world not to be conscious — now painfully conscious — that in any country, among people socially well established, although in ordinary social intercourse personal qualities will serve, in marriage, family, connection, social position, are of hardly less, and sometimes of even more importance. And the orphan Margaret Duffield, with her little hundred and fifty pounds a year, was the granddaughter of a marquess and the cousin of a countess, the ward of an earl. Therefore, as he sat ruminating upon the case in which he found himself, and gazing fondly at the cluster of leaves which had come to him from the heart of his soul’s mistress, but without kissing it, he determined not to speak to her, not even to see her, until he had told his story to Lord Toppingham, and could woo her with the consent of her guardian.

He did not loiter. Mansfield Humphreys never loitered about anything; and now it seemed to him that the very sun lagged slowly through the broken clouds, that cast their lazy shadows upon the verdure of the park.

After luncheon he sought Lord Toppingham, and found him, as he had expected, in his study, a little room just off the library, with guns in the corner, and gloves and foils upon the walls, where he wrote his business letters, smoked his meerschaum, and gave himself up to unmitigated mannishness. But to Humphreys’ surprise, Lady Toppingham was there, also. He did not shrink, however, nor abandon his purpose. He was not unwilling to confess his love before her; and indeed, after a moment’s reflection, he hoped that he might find in this generous and truly noble woman an ally. But here he erred. A woman may be willing to sacrifice herself for love ; but the world has not yet seen the gentlewoman who regarded with equanimity such a sacrifice on the part of any female member of her own family.

After a few words between him and his host and hostess, there was a pause, — one of those silences of expectation which demand more strongly than words the occasion of an unexpected interview.

Humphreys did not flinch, hut said at once, “ My lord, I have come to say to you that my life will not be happy unless I have Miss Duffield for my wife.”

Lord Toppingham looked at him a moment in blank astonishment, and then said, but not unkindly, “ Good gracious, my dear Mr. Humphreys, I hope it is not so. This is dreadful. Pahdon me, but I never dreamed of anything like this.”

Lady Toppingham flushed to her forehead, and she moved suddenly, as if she were about to rise, but she kept her seat. The truth was that she had dreamed of something like this. It was impossible that a woman of any experience of life could see a man like Mansfield Humphreys constantly in companionship with a girl like Margaret Duffield, and finally doing her such a service as his had been, without thinking that one, at least, was likely to love the other. Wherefore she had sounded her cousin, and tempted her, and provoked her; but all in vain. Margaret kept not only her own counsel, but, with a feeling of loyalty which is woman’s highest tribute of the heart, her lover’s secret, also. She was as wary as the countess. If her cousin discussed Humphreys’ character and person, with furtively watchful eyes, she discussed them also, freely and with a placid face. If Lady Toppingham praised him, she assented, and not too coldly. Nor could one or two halfearnest, half-crafty scoffs and sneers at the " American ” provoke the girl into the indiscretion of a resentful defense. Margaret remained mistress of herself and of the situation ; and Lady Toppingham came to the conclusion that her apprehensions were needless as to her cousin. And as to Humphreys, with all her liking for him, she did not feel called upon to concern herself greatly in the love affairs of any strange, traveling “ American,” who by some accident had been dropped into the Priory; so long, at least, as he did not flutter its ancient dovecotes.

Therefore, when she saw this “ American,” to whom she had been so kind, actually before her husband, her cousin’s guardian, proposing, with no hesitation and no apparent self-doubt, for her cousin as his wife, Lady Toppingham felt very much as if her great pet mastiff, Tor, had turned upon her, or had been guilty of some ungentlemanlike behavior; yet probably felt not quite so much surprise; for I am inclined to think that in the silent recesses of her soul her ladyship had more confidence in the thorough good-breeding of her English mastiff than in that of any " American ” that ever lived, were he George Washington himself. Her feeling was one of mingled resentment, and disappointment; and she said in her heart that she would n’t have believed it of Mr. Humphreys, — he ought to have known better. And this resentment was not one whit the less because Margaret’s self-contained manner had laid to rest apprehensions which were, as she herself saw now clearly, entirely as to the happiness and future position of her cousin. Those seeming in no peril, she had dismissed the matter from her mind, — how absolutely she did not know until she heard Humphreys’ avowal. Her impulsive nature might have manifested itself in reproaches ; but the reserve of a wellbred woman and the deference of a well-bred Englishwoman to her husband sealed her lips, at least until he had given his opinion.

To Lord Toppingham’s sudden expression of regret Humphreys at once replied, “ I am sorry, my lord, to have startled you, and somewhat surprised, in my turn. Is it so strange that a man should love Miss Duffield, and wish to make her his wife ? It is not long ago that you yourself told me of three men, of various ages and positions, who had done so.”

“Ah, yes; quite so, quite so. But, my dear sir, in a matter of this sort we must speak plainly ; and you ’ll excuse my sayin’ to you that those were English gentlemen, and quite in Miss Duffield’s own rank of life,—men of wellestablished position and fortune,” and he paused, leaving contrast and inference to his hearer.

“ But, my lord, Miss Duffield has no rank, nor had her father ; and — pardon me for saying that I am almost glad to know it — neither has she any fortune. Serious as the matter is to me, I should not have ventured upon my proposal, if I had not what is considered a desirable position in society to offer Miss Duffield, and an income sufficient to maintain such a position with comfort.”

“Just so, just so. I see; and I don’t doubt for a moment that your position is one that any lady in America would be proud to share. But you ’ll see that that’s quite a different thing. And America is so — so — very far away, and so —so — uncertain sort of a place, if you ‘ll forgive my say in’ so, that the idea of lettin’ Miss Duflield be married to any person, however estimable and worthy of high consideration ” (with a bow and a gracious smile), “ that comes from there is — is — something so surprisin’, so unprecedented, that you ’ll excuse me for sayin’ it’s quite inadmissible, — not to be thought of for a moment.”

Here Lady Toppingham, having thus far yielded place to her lord and master, and heard him give a complete and decided opinion, came into the discussion, and took up her parable, saying, “ Besides, Mr. Humphreys, what you say about Miss Duffield’s family having no rank is not at all to the purpose. Margaret Duffield is of her own right in our society, born into our rank of life. Why, the Duffields are older than we are; they’ve been seated at Milton Duffield longer than we’ve been at A-, — since Henry II.’s time, and probably long before. There’s not a peer in the country who would derogate at all from his rank by marrying Margaret Duffield ; and there are scores of peers who in point of family are not to be named with her, although her father’s estate was under five thousand a year.”

“ All that I see, madam. A king might be happy to marry Miss Duffield..”

“ No, Mr, Humphreys; excuse me, but you don’t see. It’s no King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid matter. It’s simply that Margaret Duffield is an English gentlewoman, a proper wife for any subject in the kingdom, no matter what his rank, or wealth, or distinction ; a woman who, whatever she might accept as to fortune, can’t be expected or allowed to marry out of her own rank in life, — can’t be asked to do so without offense. No reasonable Englishman out of that rank would dream of pretending to her hand.” The lady used this large phrase in a large way, giving the r’s a little extra roll, and then continued. “ Why, there’s Lady Harriet F-, whom they’ve put into a private madhouse : one of the surest evidences of her being insane was that she wanted to marry out of her own rank of life. You ’ll excuse me, but my lord was quite right in saying that the marriage of such a girl as Margaret to an American would be inadmissible and unprecedented.”

Lady Toppingham’s manner became so warm and earnest as to approach excitement ; and Humphreys, leaving her without reply, turned to the earl, saying, “ As to precedents for marriages between persons of the highest social position in England and Americans, Lord Toppingham can hardly be ignorant that they have existed for some time ; and that of late they have rather increased in number than diminished.”

“ To be sure. Yes, you ’re right, — quite so, quite so; right as to your facts, but pahdon me for sayin’ not quite right as to their value and the bearin’ of ’em. Those marriages, all of ’em, in times past and present, have been of American women to English men among our nobility and gentry ; a very different matter, you ’ll excuse me for sayin’, from the marriage of an English woman of correspondin’ rank to an American. And then, too,” deprecatingly, “I ’m sure that in all these cases there were considerations — certain advantages of fortune on the lady’s part, and certain needs or deficiencies on the gentleman’s — that rendered the union desirable.”

“ Indeed, I should say so!” exclaimed Lady Toppingham. A man of rank may, if he will, — but even that’s not very prudent, — take his wife from any condition of life, and if her reputation is untarnished, and her manners good, and she is a presentable person, she steps at once into her proper position as his wife, and makes her way according to her advantages, personal and other. But a gentlewoman who marries out of her own rank in life is — lost! ” As she spoke her voice rose, and she uttered the last word almost with a cry; and no longer able to restrain herself entirely, she rose quickly from her seat, and went to the window. Under Mansfield Humphreys’ dispensation of Mr. Washington Adams, Lord Toppingham had been somewhat disturbed, if not excited, while Lady Toppingham had been quite calm and self-possessed ; but now, as he brought forward his proposal of marriage, the man was calm and the woman excited.

With the kindest manner, and a gentle, almost pleading tone, Lord Toppingham said, speaking very low, “ You ‘11 not misunderstand Lady Toppin’ham, I’m sure. She has a very high regard for you, as you must have seen ; but this matter presents itself differently to you and to us; and women always take such affairs so much to heart! You must have seen that I, too, and all our friends have not been backward in showin’ our likin’ for your society. You have been received among us, as you deserved to be, — pahdon me for alludin’ to it, — quite on the footin’ of a gentleman of our own position ; and I assure you it has given us great pleasure to do so. We have been the gainers — the gainers in every way — by the favor of your company. It is n’t that.”

“ Yes, my lord,” said Humphreys, with a slight tone of bitterness in his voice, “ I know that people of your rank in England, if a presentable American, who is in any way interesting, happens among them, will receive him kindly, and accord to him for the time that he is with them a sort of brevet rank of gentleman, and ask no questions, nor care to ask any, so long as he behaves himself and is not a bore. But you ‘11 excuse me for saying that, although I am not without respect for social distinctions (which have nothing necessarily to do with politics), and perhaps, indeed, for that very reason, I do not visit any gentleman’s house, in any country, on those terms. I find fault with no man because he does not seek my society, even if it be because he holds himself above me. Let him go his way, and let me go mine. I am content, and will think none the less of him, but rather the more, because he asserts himself and shows me his hand. But if a man seeks my company, and invites me to his house, among the ladies of his house, I do not appear among them as a gentleman by brevet, He has precluded that by making me their companion. No man has a right to set another down at dinner by his marriageable daughter, and then to complain if he wins her love.”

As Humphreys earnestly uttered this protest, Lady Toppingham, who had silently returned from the window, startled him, as she stood unseen at his side, by asking suddenly, “ Have you won Margaret Duffield’s love ? ”

He was taken unprepared. What could he say ? He was desirous, above all things, to he frank and open, in this interview ; to have no semblance of concealment or reserve of thought. He was not certain that Margaret loved him ; but he was by no means certain that she did not. After a little hesitation he replied, “ I have no right to think so, whatever I may hope. I have never spoken to her, directly or indirectly, upon this subject ; and I am firmly determined not to do so without Lord Toppi ugham’s consent.”

“ Quite correct and handsome on your part,” said the earl, with a little bow, “ if you ‘ll let the occasion excuse my say in’ so. Just what I should have expected of Mr. Humphreys,”

Lady Toppingham now changed her tactics slightly. Humphreys’ prompt action had prevented her from learning anything about the sending of the cluster of leaves, which would have told her all ; but a moment’s reflection showed her that his hesitation and the nature of his reply indicated some indefinite but significant relation between him and Margaret; and she feared that this, if it were brought to light in connection with Humphreys’ manly and self-sacrificing behavior, might weaken Lord Toppingham’s opposition. " Mr. Humphreys,” she said, “ you mentioned the sufficiency of your income. You know that in an affair of this kind that is of importance. Have you any objection to telling us its amount ? ”

“ None, whatever ; rather the contrary. It will appear small to you, although I consider it sufficient. I have between twenty-five and thirty thousand dollars a year ; that is somewhat more, you know, than five thousand pounds.”

“ Not qite Sir John Acrelipp’s rent roll,” the lady said, " but very handsome, I admit. Quite enough, if that were the only question. Margaret’s father had no more at Milton Duffield when he married my aunt. Where is your estate situated ? ”

“ Pardon me, madam; perhaps you misunderstood me. I have no estate. We do not have estates in America. I have a house or two; but my income is from government bonds, railway stocks, and mortgages.”

“ No estate ! ” said Lord Toppingham, pricking up his ears. " I feared something of the sort. It seems, then, that, notwithstandin’ your income, you are really without any established position, even in America. A man whose family has no estate we” (slightly emphasizing the word) " cannot regard as one of established position, however good his connection, or however high his character and unexceptionable his manners. Stocks and bonds,” smiling, " are very agreeable adjuncts to a landed estate ; but they cannot take its place. Miss Duffield might better accept the proposals of some successful English barrister, or — or other professional person. I fear that you must make up your mind finally to my declinin’ the honor of your proposal.”

“ Of course, of course,” said the lady. " Why, Miss Duffield’s own little income is on a sounder footing. It is a rent charge upon her grandfather’s estate.”

Lord Toppingham rose, and held out his hand, saying, " Believe me, I’m extremely sorry that this interview has necessarily terminated in a way which, I must assume, is very unsatisfactory to you. Let me beg that you will not therefore leave us directly. We should really feel hurt if you did. As you have not addressed Miss Duffield, and as she is ignorant of your feelings and intentions, I shall say nothing to her of your proposal.”

Humphreys saw that he was finally and absolutely dismissed ; and taking Lord Toppingham’s hand for a moment, and bowing to the countess, he left the room. He decided, however, to accept Lord Toppingham’s invitation, and to remain a day or two longer at the Priory : not with the intention of abandoning his resolve and urging his suit to Margaret herself, but with the vague notion and eager hope of some possible change in the situation.

The invitation did not meet Lady Toppingham’s approval. She saw that the most important step was to get Humphreys out of the Priory, and indeed out of England ; knowing, as she did, that a meeting between two hitherto isolated but highly charged bodies might flash into an explosion which would blow all her plans beyond the moon. But the invitation was given, and could not be recalled.

Lady Toppingham therefore resolved to address herself directly to Margaret, as to whom she had made no promise of silence; and going to her room that night after dinner, she told her fully of what had passed in the afternoon. She did not ask her as to the nature of her feelings toward Mansfield Humphreys ; but she pressed upon her, with all the earnestness and adroitness of which she was capable, the view of Humphreys’ proposal which Lord Toppingham and she had taken, — a view which, as we have seen, was not at all strange or foreign to Margaret herself, even in the present state of her affections ; and these were of a strength and warmth far beyond what her cousin suspected, and even beyond what Humphreys hoped. During the week of her convalescence her love had fed upon her silent thought, and had grown greater day by day and hour by hour. But the influences to which she had been subjected from her childhood were still at work within her, and seconded all Lady Toppingham’s endeavors. She was reserved to a degree that alarmed her cousin ; but the result of the interview was an assurance, spontaneously given, that she would accept no offer of marriage without her guardian’s consent.

The next day, having obtained the consent of her physician, she came down to luncheon. Lady Toppingham dreaded the possible consequences of this step, and endeavored to persuade her cousin to keep her room a day or two longer ; but Margaret was quietly firm, and Lady Toppingham knew her cousin well enough to be sure that importunity would not only be in vain, but would provoke rebellion. The truth was that under her placid demeanor Margaret was sick with longing to see her lover’s face, and to read in his eyes the love which she had consented to sacrifice.

When they met, her faint and fearhued lips were drawn tight upon her teeth ; her dark eyes glowed like coals above her pallid cheeks; and the hand she mechanically held out to him was cold and rigid. It was the first time that she had seen him since he had assisted at her bedside to complete that preservation of her life which he had begun ; but she did not thank him, nor mean to thank him. What were thanks from her to him, to him from her ? She knew this, and was silent. But when he said, “ I was longing for you to come down ; for I am leaving the Priory soon,” she answered, looking him straight in the eyes, “ I knew it; and I came.” He had approached her merely with the manner of a friend who was rejoiced at her recovery, and she had so received him, .as any one would have seen who had watched them closely. But that mutual glance when eyes first meet, that instant of communication, which is hardly an instant, but time inexpressible, almost inappreciable, — quicker than lightning, for lightning lasts long enough to be photographed,—had fed full the mutual hunger of their souls, and their hearts were rejoicing with an exceeding great joy one in the other. Therefore, when he told her that he had been longing for her to come down, his voice sounded to her still enfeebled and somewhat dreamily acting brain as if he spoke with the right and the authority of a long-accepted lover, — one whom she had won and acknowledged and made her master in some far, dim, yet well-remembered time ; and her answer seemed to her, for him merely a simple and proper recognition of his right, and for her a delightful recognition of it.

Humphreys did not sit by Margaret, at luncheon. Even if he had sought to do so, — which he did not, — Lady Toppingham had, with due forethought, arranged matters to prevent it ; and very few words passed between them. Directly after luncheon the countess took Humphreys aside, and with the greatest kindness and consideration, but very seriously and impressively, told him that she had informed her cousin of what had passed the day before, of Margaret’s reception of the news, and of her promise never to wed without the consent of her guardian. The information produced the effect that she intended. Humphreys knew that he could trust Lady Toppingham not to misrepresent, and not even to color, any evidence which she gave so seriously ; he saw Margaret’s self-sacrificing determination, and understood it; and he said at once that it would be better for him to leave the Priory that afternoon, and asked the favor of a wagonette to take him to the station.

Meanwhile poor Margaret herself was passing through an experience which would have afforded a young beauty of more thoughtless head and harder heart some amusement; but which, in her present state of mind and body, was a new cross laid upon her overburdened shoulders. Captain Surcingle had been much exercised by Margaret’s injury and illness. During her confinement he had brooded over his love ; and in his simple way he thought that now, as she had come down again, but was evidently feeling “so awfully seedy,” it would be a good time to offer her the support of his arm for a little walk, and the cheer of his companionship for life. She gladly accepted his invitation to “ a stwoll; ” and taking his armn, she loitered languidly along, leaning upon it as she might have leaned upon her father’s, and ungratefully thinking thoughts of mingled happiness and grief, in which he had no share. Insensibly their steps tended toward a remote and retired part of the garden, which she had been so much in the habit of frequenting, in solitary moods, that it was called Margaret’s Den. There were the remains of an old pleached alley, some venerable yews, once trimmed to artificial shapes, but now neglected, and a great evergreen maze, which dated from the time of Charles II.

Captain Surcingle supported his fair burden in perfect silence until they reached this green recess of shade ; in silence while lie placed her upon a rustic seat; and sat in silence until he had made ineffectual attempts to scrawl with the end of his stick upon the hard old garden walk. Then turning suddenly to her, and as suddenly away again, he broke out, —

“ Margy, I feel awfully about you.”

“ Ob, Jack, you need n’t be troubled any longer. I’m quite well now, except a little weakness. See here ! That’s all now,” and she held out her arm, from which her sleeve fell away, and showed only a broad black band over the wound.

“ Oh, I say, Margy ! that won’t do. That’s the way you always put it on me ; and it is n’t fair to a fellah that’s so awfully in earnest. I was awfully sowwy you got hurt, of course, — awfully ; but you ’re out of the splints now, and a girl of your b—bone and pluck ’ll soon come all right again. But you know well enough that’s not what I mean. I mean I feel awfully about you for myself. ’ Nevah was weally spoons on any other girl.”

“ Don’t, Jack, — don’t.”

“ Yes, but I will. Why should n’t I ? Who’s got ’ better wight ? Ain’t you all in the family ? What’s the use of goin’ out of it? Won’t find ’fellah ’s fond of you as I am.”

“ Jack, Jack, why will you talk so ? You know it’s all nonsense.”

“ Not a bit of it: no nonsense about it. I’m not such a fool as you think. I’ve got enough, you know, to carry on the war comfortably in a cozy way ; and if you ’d have me, the governor ’d come down with something handsome. I’d like to give you everything in the world, if I could.”

This does not sound like very tender wooing, but Margaret knew that few of the suits couched in finer phrase were half as sincere; and she exclaimed, half to herself, half to him, " Oh, I am so sorry, so sorry ! ”

“ Sowwy ! What’ you sowwy for ? You ’ah enough to dwive ’ fellah cwazy,” and starting up from her side, he began to stride up and down the path before her.

Margaret looked at him a moment in silence ; and then, rising, she went to him. As he stopped before her and looked down into her face, she laid her hands upon his shoulders, and returning his look kindly, said, " Dear Jack, you ’re as good as gold ; and I ’m more sorry over this than you can think. But, Jack, listen ! I can never be your wife, — never. No, no,” shaking her head sadly, " nor the wife of any other man. Listen, again ! I can trust you, and I will tell you what I have not told anybody. I belong, heart and soul, for all my life, to a man whose wife I cannot hope to be.”

Surcingle looked at her a moment, with unwonted penetration in his eye, and then said interrogatively,—

“4 Mewican fellah ? ”

Her lips did not move, but her face said Yes ; and the captain ruefully commented, " Mewican fellahs gettin’ evwythin’ nowadays, — all the cups ; an’ if they ’re goin’ to get all the nice girls, I go in fo’ a wow. Ought to be a war, so we could polish ’em off. I ’d like to take two such as that fellah for my share in the first sewimmage.”

“ Jack, dear, you need n’t do that, to prevent his getting me. Don’t you see how wretched I am ? I can never be his wife. It would n’t do. But I ’ll never be any other man’s. Don’t you believe me ? ”

“ Believe anything you say, Margy.”

“ I know you do, Jack. And now will you do something for me ? ”

“ Do anything for you, Margy.”

“ I thought you would ; even this. I’m sure he’s going away directly, — today, I think; going home to America; and I shall never see his face again, — never, never, never.” Her voice sank low, and there was a wail in it as she uttered these words. “I want you to find him now, and send him to me, here. Say nothing to anybody else; and do it now, won’t you, Jack — now ? ”

He looked at her blankly a moment, and then said, " By George, of all the cheek I ever knew, the cheek of a woman is the cheekiest!” But although he relieved his feelings and expressed his astonishment in this slang, he pressed her hand, and said, “ Yes, Margy, I ’ll go.” Poor Jack, brave, simple, selfsacrificing soul! you would rather have led a forlorn hope at Delhi, or the charge at Balaklava, ten times over. Before she could say another word he had left her.

Within a few minutes he stood before his successful rival, and, lifting his hat, said with even voice, as if he were giving a military order, “Mr. Humfweys, Miss Duffield’s compliments, and would you do her the favor to see her in her Den,—d’wee’ly ? ” and, turning on his heel, was gone.

Margaret had resumed her seat, and, drawing herself against the high back at one end of the rustic settle, she leaned there, with her hands lying listlessly in her lap, as she saw Humphreys come out from behind the maze. He sprang quickly forward, to take her hand; but she withheld it, and, drawing back, waved him to a seat at the other end of the settle. He obeyed.

“ Miss Duffield ! ”

“ Call me Margaret now and here. I shall never hear you do so again.”

“ Margaret, it was very kind in you to send for me.”

“ It was not kind ; it was selfish, — pure selfishness; perhaps cruelty—to us both.” As she said this, the sharp, bitter tone in her voice, usually so rich and low, cut him to the heart.

“I leave the Priory this afternoon.”

So I supposed.”

“ Intending to take the next steamer for New York.”

“ That is the best that you could do ; except never to return.”

“ Margaret, Margaret! I see you know what you are to me, — the only woman in the world. I have some reason, have I not ? to believe that you value my love ; and yet you can let me go when you might keep me here ; and you bid me never return. Can you really love me ? ”

“ For that very reason, I bid you. See! I have no concealments from you ; ” and her fair face flushed rosy red as she opened the top of her corsage a little, and taking forth a crumpled handkerchief held it out to him. The little crimson dashes in the corner were not blood, but the initials W. M. H.

He put out his hand to take it, but she drew it back, saying, “ No, no ! At least, I may keep this.”

“ I have the other.”

“ The leaves. Poor leaves! How little I thought, when I first saw them, that they would lead to this ! ”

“ And yet, Margaret, if you love me now ” —

“ If ? ” — almost with resentment, — “ and you here at my bidding ? ”

“ You must have felt some love for me before.”

“ I did not think; I was only hapPy.”

“ Happier, perhaps, than I was then. And now ? ”

She bowed her head, and twisting her fingers together wrung them in and out, crying, “ Oh ! Oh ! Oh ! Oh ! ” in a tone which, although hardly more than a murmur, was full of anguish.

It was not in man, in loving man, to bear this longer, and he moved quickly toward her. To his surprise, she sprang up, and stepping behind the back of the settle leaned upon it, saying, “ No, no ! Spare me ; for I am weak, — weak in body and in soul. Let me keep my faith. Why ask for more than you have, for more than you know, when I cannot be your wife ? ”

“ Why not, Margaret ? Why ? ”

“ I have promised. I am Lord Toppingham’s ward. It is not right that I should be your wife without his consent; and that he will never give, — perhaps ought not to give. I cannot control my heart, — cannot now, at least. Perhaps I ought, before; but I can my actions.”

“ And I must leave you, never hope to claim what your heart has given me, merely because you were born and bred in a certain rank of life here, and I am an American, and not an English gentleman ? ”

“ Yes. — Let me sit down ; for you know that I am not strong;” and she pointed to his former place, which he resumed. “ See, Mansfield Humphreys,” she said, speaking now in her usual sweet, clear tones, “ I am only a very young woman, but a woman who, you have said, sees what she looks at, and thinks about what she sees. Must a girl like me tell a man like you that rank is not a mere name, but a result, — the flower and fruit of a long growth ; that to those who have it, is the most important possession of their lives ? You know this.”

“ I do.”

“ And yet you ask me — me, a woman, to whom this atmosphere has been the breath of my nostrils since I was born — to give it up ? ”

“ I did not ask you, until ” — and he checked what might have been both a boast and a reproach.

“ You might have gone on. — Well, if that were all, I would give it up for you as easily and as quickly as I give you this ; ” and she broke a bud from a sprig that hung over the settle, and tossed it into his lap.

He brushed it scornfully away.

“ You are right. One is of no more real value than the other; and yet for the sake of that valueless thing, and that I may not wound and wring the hearts of those of whom I am a part, and who have loved and cherished me from my infancy, I send you away, — away from me forever! Oh, forever, forever ! ” and again she moaned, and tormented her soft, white fingers.

“ You love them better than you love me.”

“ An unkind, cruel speech, if you understood ; but you do not understand. First of all I must do right. It is not only men who must sacrifice their lives to duty. To that I am sacrificing all the happiness that woman can hope for, except in the consciousness that she has made the sacrifice.”

“ And I ? My happiness? ”

“It is for that, too, that I make the sacrifice. Listen to me coolly ; ” and she leaned a little forward, speaking with a calm and even voice. “ Don’t flout or doubt what I say; for a young woman may sometimes see what escapes the eyes even of a mature man.”

“ I know; I have often thought how much older I am than you.”

Her glance fell upon him, full of reproachful love, and with a little contemptuous flirt of her fingers, scarcely perceptible, she went on : “ I have never been in America, but I know more of it, have read more about it, than most of those who are around me ; and I know that I could not live in America and among Americans, and be happy — except always in you. And therefore you, after your first gladness in calling me your wife had passed, — you would not be happy — except, sometimes, perhaps, in me. Our ways are not as your ways, unless you are misrepresented by your own people and your own writers. Do you believe the Bible ? I know you respect it. ‘ Be ye not unequally yoked’ is as true socially as it is in religion. But I am ashamed to preach to you; and it is needless. There is my promise to my guardian, — a promise which it became me to make, and which it is my duty to keep. I shall keep it. But. can you think it strange that, although I keep it, I sent for you, that I might hear your voice, and see your heart, and — show you mine, before we parted?”

“ God bless you, Margaret.”

“ Yes, yes ; before we parted forever.” She sat a moment, and clasped her hands in silence. “ And now go, or we shall be interrupted.”

“ Margaret, Margaret, give me something that you have touched; something that has lain close to you, that is a part of you, — something, Margaret! ”

She raised her hands mechanically to her neck, and unclasped a slender chain, from which hung a little blue enameled jewel that had dwelt beneath her handkerchief, and held it out to him. The hand that gave it was, unconsciously to her, that of her injured arm, and again the sleeve fell away from it, and showed the wounded place. Humphreys seized the hand and covered it with kisses. She yielded to him for a moment, and then, firmly withdrawing her hand, she turned her back, and said, “ Now leave me, and farewell! ”

He rose, and walked slowly away. At the corner of the maze around which his path lay, he turned again. She had fallen upon her knees, and was gazing after him, bent forward eagerly, and with her arms stretched out as if in piteous entreaty. He paused; but at once she shook her head, and wildly waved him away. He did not see that when he passed out of sight she fell upon the ground, and lay prone as he had found her wounded in the park.

He had made his adieus at the Priory, and going directly to the stables he took his wagonette, and was driven to the station. Within a week he was homeward bound upon the ocean.

Mansfield Humphreys did not pine for Margaret Duffield. No strongbodied, strong-brained man pines for any woman. But he went about his work with a cherished sadness in his soul, which he took out at times from its hiding-place, oftenest at night when he sat alone, as he did Margaret’s jewel ; and love and jewel and sadness together made him a sweet torment, that he would not have exchanged for all the gayety of heart that ever bounded to pipe and tabor. But no one knew that he had this tender aching in his bosom.

This had gone on nearly a year, when one morning, at breakfast, he found among his letters one with a British stamp and “ Toppington Priory ” upon the sealing-flap. It was addressed —

Mansfield Humfreys, Esqre,

Boston, Massachoosits,

America.

He opened it and read : —

THE PRIORY, TOPPINGTON-SHIRE,

10th September, 1877.

DEAR MR. Humfreys,— Would you mind coming to the Priery ? We should n’t mind having you, altho’ we ’re not all very well. Lord Toppingham sends kind regards.

Sincerely yours,

C. TOPPINGHAM.

The phraseology of the letter seemed a little strange to him, but not so strange as if it had come from one of his Boston friends. He had never happened to see Lady Toppingham’s handwriting ; for during his really short although momentous visit, she had occasion to write him but once, a mere invitation, and that her cousin had written for her. He recognized the Priory stamp on the paper and on the envelope ; and as to the spelling of Massachusetts, and even of Priory, he thought little of that. The former was only an example of the prevalent English ignorance of American things; and as to the latter, he had caught himself, sometimes, in unconscious phonetic slips of the same kind. The subject of the letter expelled all other thoughts from his mind. He was summoned to Toppington Priory, and by Lady Toppingham, and all were not well. Was the “ all ” she who was all to him ? With his usual promptness of action, he made arrangements for an absence of a few weeks, and in due course of steam by ship and rail he presented himself at the Priory gate, and sent up his card.

Lady Toppingham received him in the drawing-room, with marked kindness, but without the air of expectation or of consciousness that he looked for. After a few words, he said, with an earnestness which his reserved manner did not conceal, —

“ May I ask after the welfare of Miss Duffield ? ”

“ Ah, I see how it is, and why you have come ; I think I see, at least. Mr. Humphreys, do you still love my cousin ?

“ Lady Toppingham, it is hardly three weeks since I received your letter, and I am here.”

“ My letter ! Pardon me ; I wrote you no letter. I don’t quite understand.”

Humphreys took out his pocket letter-case, and quickly finding the letter handed it to his hostess.

“ That is our paper, but this is not my hand, nor even an imitation of it. I did not write this letter. What is all this ? I see, I see. This is poor Jack’s hand ; and Jack’s spelling, too,” she added, with a smile. “ How came he to do such a thing ? And now I think of it, he’s been here almost all the time, these two or three days ; riding over early in the morning, and hanging about the house and the stables, poring over the newspapers that he never looked at before. I ’ll find him, and ask him about this. Why, there he is, coming along the terrace ! Excuse me for a moment; ” and she pushed open a window, and stepped out.

“ Jack,” holding out the letter to him, “ what does this mean ? ”

The captain stopped, and tugging at his mustache looked ruefully at the paper for a moment, and then said, —

“ Own up. Means I ’ve committed fo’gewy. I wote it. Meant to tell you befoah Mewican fellah got here. Did n’t want to tell you too soon, an’ have you blow on poor Margy. Mewican fellah got here when I was off duty, that’s all. Letter means wight. Letter means that Margy ’s sick fo’ Humphreys. I’m awful spoons on Margy, myself, and was fool enough to think that she ‘d look at a fellah like me; but when ’ fellah can’t get a girl himself, there’s no use in bein’ dog in the manger, when he sees she’s dyin’ for ’nother fellah, and means to do it, if she can’t have him. What’s the use o’ blockin’ the game, if other fellah is n’t a cad or a muff? You may want to kill Margy ; but not if I can help it. Now Mewican fellah ’s over here, better give her her head.” And having uttered the longest and most connected speech of his life, the captain left the terrace, and went down the drive with his long, swinging stride.

Lady Toppingham took a turn or two upon the terrace, and then entering the drawing-room went to Humphreys, with water glistening in her eyes, saying, That dear old Jack, poor fellow, has been wiser and better than we all.” And then she told him Jack’s story ; and also how, after Humphreys had left the Priory, the light in Margaret’s eyes went out, and the spring from her step ; and how, although she was cheerful, her smile was sad to see,—• “ oh, so sad, so sad ; ” and how she seemed to have no joy in life, not even in her music, although she would sit at the piano-forte every evening in the twilight, and play “ things that would break your heart; ” and how they had taken her to Italy, Jack going with them; and how she had looked at Italy as if it were a mere heap of rubbish lying above a buried life; and how they had brought her home again. “ Jack’s way,” she said, “ is the only way. I know.that my lord will yield ; for I confess that I — yes, even I, a woman,” and she bowed her head for a moment in her hands — “ have had to hold him up to withstand another woman’s happiness. And now go up to the poor girl. You "11 find her altered. She was in my room with me when your card came in. Be sure she’s there yet. You know the way.”

Humphreys was quickly at the door of the morning parlor; and as he silently opened it, he saw that Margaret had seated herself at the instrument where they first had talked and listened together to music ; but her arms lay upon the unlifted lid, and her head was bowed upon them.

His step aroused her ; and suddenly rising, she fled to the farthest corner of the room, whence she looked at him with pallid dread. Surprise at her act, her attitude, and the expression of her face arrested his step, but he spoke her name.

For an appreciable moment she did not answer, but looked at him, shrinking-. Then she said, with scorn in her voice, “ Did they send for you to come to me?” But before he could reply, her white, transparent cheek flamed red, and she cried, “ God bless them, if they did ! For, Mansfield Humphreys, if you had not come, I should have died.”

Lady Toppingham, who did everything handsomely that she did at all, secured them against interruption; and it was after a long hour of happiness so great as almost to repay them for their suffering that Margaret said, “ You ‘ll please not think, you vain creature, that it was for love alone I should have died. But, oh Mansfield,” clinging to him and nestling upon his shoulder, ” it was the struggle with myself. There was such a fighting in my brain and such a wailing in my heart. I had no rest by day and little sleep at night.”

After a few happy weeks of healthrestoring joy, Margaret was married to Mansfield Humphreys, in the little parish church of Toppington ; and all the county neighbors came to see. Her bridesmaids were her cousins, the Ladies Alice and Elizabeth, younger sisters of Lady Toppingham ; who nevertheless, in spite of a certain liking for Humphreys, regarded the whole proceeding with apprehension : “ Only an American, you know ! ”

And who should be best man to Humphreys but Jack Surcingle ! Knowing that the bridegroom had no near friends at hand, he frankly proposed himself, and was as frankly accepted. When the marriage service was over, and the wedding party was in the vestry, he went to the bride, and taking her face between his hands and gazing into her eyes, he said, “ God bless you, cousin Margy ! ” and stooped and kissed her long upon her forehead; but before he could turn away, she threw her arms about his neck and kissed him on both cheeks. Then Jack Surcingle, without waiting further ceremony, went straight out of church, and was no more seen, He managed easily to get an exchange, and served Her Majesty in Egypt.

There is another chapter of the story ; but here ends all that can be told in these pages of what befell him who first went to Toppington Priory as Mr. Washington Adams.

Richard Grant White .

  1. The Atlantic, January, 1884.